Commentaries

Friday, February 17, 2017

THE GREAT WALL



GOOD MONSTER MOVIE  

Film Review by Fiore 


There is a veritable plethora of behind the scenes elements affecting THE GREAT WALL, the latest effort from Legendary Pictures starring Matt Damon.  Before I get into the international Hollywood drama, let’s talk about the movie.  It’s great; one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in years.  It has a rousing score, beautiful cinematography, better bow and arrow sequences than Steven Amell can perform in ARROW, the first ever grenades, the first aerial bombers and expert SFX on the monsters.  You can’t ask for more than that.

During the Song Dynasty, a group of mercenaries led by William Garin (Damon) meander their way into China to purloin gun powder.  Unfortunately, their quest is snarled when they are attacked by Toaties, an alien species which emerges from hibernation every sixty years to feed.  The monster awakening to feed draws from JEEPERS CREEPERS, but this isn’t just one monster.  A military garrison of the Imperial Court called The Nameless Order, snags the mercenaries as spies, but then relies on their fighting prowess when it is discovered they have found a way to kill the Toaties.  The first Toatie attack occurs within the film’s opening reel, and from that point, THE GREAT WALL never slows.  Thank Mary Jo Markey and Craig Wood for proving to be the exception to the rule that more than one editor ruins the film.

Matt Damon is generally a harbinger of lame movies.  He stars in films fraught with liberal, socialist concepts.  Outside of THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU, this is the only film I’ve enjoyed him in.  Some time ago, Chuck Norris, who was embarking on his acting career, asked Steve McQueen for advice.  McQueen told Norris: “… say as little as you can and just fight.”  Norris, to this day, claims it was the best advice he ever received.  It made him a star and an icon.  Damon takes that same advice in THE GREAT WALL.  He has very little dialogue, and what he does say is curt, and non-political, thankfully.

Pedro Pascal and Willem Dafoe help complete the mercenary group.  At no time does Dafoe say: “God speed, Spider-Man” and it’s a little disappointing.  Pascal is solid as Damon’s friend and ally, and the plucky comic relief.

Andy Lau, who is one of China’s top box office stars, plays Wang, the Strategist and War Counselor for the Nameless Order.  He is one of two Chinese characters who can speak English, and therefore, carries the dialogue.   Jing Tian plays Commander Lin Mae, and the love interest for Garin.   Lu Han is Peng Yong, a young warrior who becomes Garin’s mentor


KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:

1.      THE FIRST ATTACK ON THE WALL
2.      THE BATTLE OVER THE WALL
3.      THE AERIAL RAID


Now for the real drama.

This film supposedly cost Thomas Tull his position at Legendary Pictures.  You may recall several years ago, I broke the story about the implosion of the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh as an integral part in Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT.  When the proposed shoot was placed in jeopardy by social activist, Nolan threatened to pull out and shoot everything in New York. It was Tull, who has a vested interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, who came in and salvaged Nolan’s production in Pittsburgh.  He considers Pittsburgh home, and made it possible for the city to score major Hollywood points by replacing the Civic Arena with a heavy CGI of Heinz Field, and of course, cameos by players and coaches.    For THE GREAT WALL , Tull envisioned  a series of productions between American and Chinese studios to reap the benefits of both box office venues.
 
THE GREAT WALL cost $150 million to make; the most for any production in China.  The film, which was released in China toward the end of last year, met with harsh critical reviews.  Seems the Chinese critics thought the film provided a “white savoir narrative” by bringing in the mercenary group.  See, America isn’t the only place where politics, especially from those pushing an agenda, comes into play on film entertainment. 

Unfortunately for the critics, the Chinese government also wanted this film to succeed for better ties between the two countries.  They issued a statement blasting the critics, and within 24 hours, the negative comments on the film were ceased.

Stupidly, the American critics, except of course, for your one true film critic, saw this censorship as a slight to all thing the H3L stand for; so a media jihad against THE GREAT WALL was formed by the condescending critics in the two-letter cities to pan the film, as a sign of solidarity.  The pundits are predicting the movie will only make $20 million on opening weekend, despite having already earned $225 million in its Asian release.  So vehement was the American press on THE GREAT WALL, that Tull became the studio’s fall guy.  This byplay of media vs. government vs movie was laid on Tull’s plate and, despite his past contributions to the studio, including its formation, is credited for the dismissal of Tull from the Legendary Pictures Board of Directors.  This is worse than high school; and it’s the main reason you, dear reader and film lover, come to me for best in film coverage and reviews you can truly use.

Let’s take a look at the report card for THE GREAT WALL:

ACTING = B
CINEMATOGRAPHY =A
SOUND/MUSIC =A
EDITING =A
LIGHTING =A
SCRIPT =B
SFX =A
ACTION =A




THE GREAT WALL is fun and definitely worth the price of admission.  This is Director Yimou Zhang’s first venture into American cinema.  I trust it will not be his last.   I was fortunate to see the film in 3D, and the technique enhances the presentation.  Many arrows, hatchets and body parts fly off the screen.  Don’t miss this one; you’re going to have a good time.

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